On a breezy, early fall day, Farmers of Color Network (FOCN) staff members made their way to Rocky Ridge Farm in Louisburg, NC for a small brigade. Farmers Steve and Elke McCalla have been farming together for several years on about 30 acres of land in Wake County. While they produce mostly vegetables, the McCallas are stewarding many perennials and tree crops on their land. They recently held a chestnut roasting event for the community under a 15-year-old chestnut tree near the center of the property. They also host other events throughout the year like biochar burns and family farm tours via barrel train.
On this day, two FOCN staff, Tahz Walker and Nikki Pressley, along with local farmer and friend of the McCallas, Ken Daniels from Singing Stream Farm, gathered to help start assembling a caterpillar tunnel that will aid with season extension for Rocky Ridge Farm. Rocky Ridge, along with Singing Stream Farm, has been working hard over the course of the season providing weekly produce to members of church congregations as a part of the Wake County Come to the Table church CSA project. These farmers worked with four other farms to collectively provide CSA boxes to church members with a variety of seasonal produce. The farmers are strategizing together to offer a rotating variety of crops to their customers in such a way that each farmer is able to grow high-quality crops within their capacity. The McCallas, along with Ken Daniels, have had to scale up their production in the span of a season. According to Steve, “because of the CSA, we basically transitioned a small farm to a medium-sized farm.” This increase in demand has caused Rocky Ridge to open up a new plot of land in order to accommodate the need for more plantings over the course of the season. The McCallas cleared and prepped a 16’x100’ rectangle where the tunnel will be placed.
Over the course of the day the team was able to get most of the structural beams attached to each other. The caterpillar tunnel kit is from Farmers Friend LLC, which provides tunnel kits to small and mid-sized farmers that they can usually assemble themselves with a little extra help. The tunnels provide protection from the elements that aid in extending the growing season from early spring frost to falling temperatures in later fall. The idea of a brigade is born out of a long tradition of rural farmers within close geographic proximity banding together to form labor parties that assisted with projects on each other’s farms. The brigades provided an opportunity for many hands to complete larger tasks like seasonal plantings, barn raisings, or other infrastructure projects in a shorter amount of time, while also allowing time and space for relationship building and strategic conversations. RAFI-USA plans to continue helping to organize brigades as needed throughout the network as an opportunity to support farmer-led projects and help farmers scale capacity to increase their markets.